coney island of the mind

Welcome to the Big City.

"The true New Yorker secretly believes that anyone living anywhere else has got to be, in some sense, kidding."
-John Updike

"But it's the truth even if it didn't happen."
-Ken Kesey

"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."
-George Bernard Shaw


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Wednesday, June 23, 2004
three things and this other thing

1. Being in the writing program at the University of Iowa, even if you're only here for a week, is roughly equivalent to being the quarterback of the football team at any other university in America. Even the cute little blond cheerleader at the student union and the lady with eyelids full of blue eye shadow at the front desk of my hotel were agog when I told them why I was here. "The Writers Program? Wow!" If you're a big, dorky writer and you want to be BMOC, this is the place for you.

2. Everyone here? Is really, really, really good. Really.

3. And I absolutely swear this is true: I came thisclose to dedicating that last entry to you, trasker, for all the love you send my way from up yonder in the great white north. The only reason I wrote that last entry was because I knew you'd were reading. We are so BFF4EVA.


This top is too low cut for this hour. It's still light out and I'm walking into a bar with a black silk blouse cut down past my breast bone. The sky is turning orange and the summer air is thick with the distinctive scent of the lower east side - air conditioner fumes, half-smoked cigarettes and dog piss.

It's too obvious. I should have gone with the white tee shirt. It would still show off what I want but wouldn't make me look so desperate. I step in front of the blacked-out windows, which always did provide a good, strong reflection. No, this is good. This will look good inside. All that matters is how I look in there, where he will first see me.

I step quickly into the darkness and dim candlelight of Urge. Nothing has changed. Same big square bar in the middle of the room, same never-used wood paneled dance floor behind it, same dusty rainbow flags hung along the side wall, same old queens sitting together at the corner of the bar with the same beer mugs that have sprouted directly out of their hands. The Met game plays on the two overhead TV screens. If anyone here really cared about baseball, they would be tuned to the Yankees.

And there he is. In the dim red light, Steve is moving back and forth behind the bar. Flesh and blood. Even more overwhelming than the deep, breathy, disembodied voice I hung up on just ten minutes ago, when I called from a pay phone to make sure he was here.

His hair is longer than it was two years ago, and I get a small charge out of the fact that I recognize the tee shirt. Its baby blue with a navy blue collar. I smile because it was always my favorite and take this as an excellent sign.

His back is to me as I scurry toward the far end where there are no customers. I pull the stool out with fingers that I notice are ice cold. I am turned to the side, arranging my blouse and running fingers through my hair, trying to decide what the hell my opening line should be, when I hear the unmistakable sound of a glass being set on the bar right in front of me.

It's a tequila sunrise. Damn.

"Well, hello."

His smile is unfamiliar. He has had a minute to prepare. I wasn't supposed to be the one caught off guard. Damn. Damn.

"Hey," I say. Brilliant as ever.

"You lost?"

Turning toward him, I smile and lift the sweaty glass to my mouth. "Nope."

He looks around at the Met fans in the corner and two other guys sizing each other up from opposite ends of the bar, both trying to decide if its too early to settle.

"All alone?"

"I wanted a drink."

"There are three other bars on this block. None of which employ me."

"I'm well aware of that."

As I struggle to maintain unapologetic eye contact with him, I rub my freezing hands together in my lap and realize that in spite of the smirk plastered on his face, he has been drying his hands with a dish towel for almost a full minute.

"How have you been?"

It takes him a moment to respond, and I wonder if the drink he just put in front of me is about to be thrown in my face. But he answers, telling me about his hand, a recent gig at CBGBs that he seems particularly proud of, his beloved niece who is now three, and I listen, really I do, but, see, there's also his face. There was no way I could have prepared myself for being this close to it again. The bushy moustache has reappeared and he hasn't shaven in a day or two. My favorite tee shirt is snug across his chest and he has a couple of new tattoos on his left arm. He looks like a porn star from the 70s. I find this unbearably hot.

"That's great." I smile at him. My mind is a complete blank. I am violently rearranging the ice in my glass with my swizzle stick as he just look at me, calmly, arms folded over his chest. "You woke up late today."

"Did I?"

"Yeah. Your hair is all curly. You shouldn't leave home with a wet head."

"It's July."

"Whatever." I smile and for the first time, he returns it. This makes me brave. "I've wanted to get in touch with you for a long time."

"So you thought that you'd hunt me down at my place of business and just show up one Saturday night. Not even a phone call to warn me." A pause. "Or was that you who hung up on me earlier?"

I try to hold his gaze, but I can't. The Met fans call for refills and as he backs up and turns away, I remember the last time I saw him, hailing me a cab at 68th and Broadway on a strangely quiet Sunday night. I had long since decided it was over, and the disappearance of sex and the tapering away of my phone calls hadn't sent him a strong enough message. I was a coward, never told him outright, not even on that last night, and when he tried to kiss me, I opened the taxi door between us, gave him a tight smile and a "good night." The desperation I saw on his face as the driver sped away is the same I see on mine now as I glance at the mirror over the bar.



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